Pilot project’s first refugees orientated

by Masami Ito

Poised to embark on a new life on their own, the five Myanmar families in Japan on a U.N.-sponsored third-country resettlement program finished their six-month training Wednesday.

Excitement was in the air at the graduation ceremony, in Tokyo, where 22 of the 27 family members received “diplomas,” marking the end of their Japanese-language and acculturation training. The remaining five were too young to participate in the training program.

During the ceremony, the ethnic Karen refugees expressed their gratitude to the Japanese government, their teachers and staff for the opportunity to live in Japan and the language and cultural support provided to the families.

“We are about to start our new lives and we will do our best,” said one of the mothers. The government has asked that the media withhold names and details of all of the refugees to protect their privacy.

The five families were the first group to participate in a three-year pilot program that began last fall. A total of about 90 Karen refugees will be accepted to Japan from the Mera refugee camp in Thailand.

Japan is the first Asian country to introduce the pilot program and is currently in the middle of selecting the next group, to arrive this fall.

Susumu Inoue, director general of Refugee Assistance Headquarters (RHQ), offered the refugees words of encouragement at Wednesday’s ceremony, commenting on how much their Japanese had improved. RHQ was entrusted by the government to oversee the training program.

“Please support everyone in your family and live a healthy life in Japan,” Inoue told the refugees. “And, most importantly, please make lots of Japanese friends at your new jobs or schools and have a fun life.”

Two of the families will move this month to Yachimata, Chiba Prefecture, where the parents will work on farms growing leaf vegetables and peanuts. The other three families — 15 people in all — will move to Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, where the parents will grow shiitake on farms as well.

After the ceremony, one of the fathers expressed anxiety about starting their new lives.

“We are moving to a new place and I don’t know anything about it,” he said. But “I have people who will help and support me.”

The man expressed concern for the thousands of refugees still living at the Mera camp, including his mother and sisters.

“If possible, I would like to help the other refugees so that they can have freedom,” the father said. “I would like to bring (my mother and sisters) to Japan, but I don’t know if that is possible yet.”